Whole30 Week 3: Vegan and Not-So Vegan

Asparagus & Fennel Soup by Amy Roth Photo

This week’s post is dedicated to Kenji Lopez-Alt, that test kitchen god (and managing culinary director at Serious Eats) whose recipes formed the backbone of the best meals I made this week. Only minor tweaks were necessary to make them Whole30-compliant; though I’m really starting to hate the word compliant, the adjustments seem to be coming to me naturally now. I’m still constantly hungry despite eating all the time and adding even more fat to my diet, but the cheese cravings aren’t constant, so I’m headed in the right direction. No tiger blood, either, but I always thought that was a long shot, anyway.

Lunch today was a fan-freaking-tastic soup of asparagus and fennel, found on Lopez-Alt’s Instagram feed. I took the basics and tweaked them a bit with what I had in the house and fell head over heels. I sautéed 1/2 large chopped onion with a small thinly sliced bulb of fennel and a finely chopped stalk of celery in olive oil until they were soft, then added one bunch of chopped asparagus (minus the tips, which I steamed) and half of a sliced russet potato and cooked them together for a few minutes. One quart of chicken stock, salt to taste and some simmering later, I blitzed the soup in my Vitamix and lunch was served. I love simple, seasonal recipes, don’t you? I may try to accentuate the fennel flavor next time with a splash of Herbsaint, but honestly found the soup to be perfectly balanced this way. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Cast Iron Steak & Vegan Creamed Spinach by Amy Roth Photo

A more substantial meal came in the form of a stovetop-cooked ribeye and vegan creamed spinach, which may sound like an odd combination, but hear me out. When you’re eating so much meat in one sitting (though not that much — Gil and I split the steak), there’s no need to go overboard with real creamed spinach. It’s just too much. And honestly, I found the flavors of this vegan dish much more pleasing and less muted than I do with the standard recipe. Blended cauliflower and almond milk form the base of the “cream” and are just brilliant at that job. I did add a little nutritional yeast for a cheesy tang, but otherwise cooked it according to the recipe.

The steak followed the Serious Eats recipe I use exclusively during winter, when the thought of standing at my grill would be enough to keep me from eating steak at all if not for this method of indoor cooking. I did use ghee instead of butter and could definitely taste a difference, but the steak was excellent anyway, so no complaints there.

I did have a couple of small cheats this week. When I couldn’t stand the thought of preparing one more meal, Gil whisked me away to a BBQ joint where I had smoked beef with a side of mashed potatoes that might have (probably) had milk and/or butter in them. I felt fine after, so no worries for me! Then, at a meeting I attended Tuesday, I had one Terra Chip which was The Best Thing I’ve Ever Tasted In My Life. I can’t even lie. Fried potatoes (though this was taro, I believe) are absolutely my trigger food and that chip was like a drug that left me wanting more. I don’t know where I got this self-control, but am very happy for it, because otherwise I’d be sitting on my living room floor covered in grease and crumbs.

Then again, Benny would probably take care of the crumbs situation. I haven’t really shared about it here, but we lost both Ru and Otis over the last two years, which was just heartbreaking. Ru left us only in December of last year, so we waited as long as we could, but finally adopted another greyhound just three weeks ago! He’s the sweetest little guy with a funny bark and a much bigger brain than Ru and Otis put together — it’s a little scary to watch him figuring things out. He’s still a little camera-shy, so no decent photos yet, but if you’d like to follow him on Instagram, he’s precocious and has his own account. And while you’re there, follow me, too! I try to post everyday, so there’s always something delicious to see.

I’m planning to end Whole30 a few days early next Thursday, when I’m going out to lunch with friends. We’re planning for dim sum and I don’t want to miss out on everything but steamed vegetables. But I’ll behave. Mostly. See you next week!

Chive Blossom Vinegar

Eight years ago, Gil and I were newlyweds enjoying our first summer together in this house. We started decorating and renovating — projects that continue to this day — and I tried my hand at gardening, not realizing in that rush of excitement over having a yard that we barely get enough sunlight for grass, let alone tomatoes. But I have managed to grow many pots of herbs on our second-floor bedroom deck over the years. They require almost no maintenance beyond a good dousing during dry spells, but the lowest maintenance herb of them all (and thus, the closest to my heart) is my chive plant, which still returns every Spring and still delights me when it does.

Chive Blossoms, Jar | Amy Roth Photo

That first summer, I learned that chive blossoms are edible, and sprinkled them liberally over green salads, potato salads and omelettes for a hint of onion flavor and a dash of color, but never thought to do anything more than garnish with them until just last month. I follow David Leite of Leite’s Culinaria on Facebook, where he posted a link to his chive blossom vinegar just as my blossoms were coming in, so that became my latest project.

Chive Blossoms in Jar | Amy Roth Photo

Though my single plant produces more chives than we can consume in a season, the amount of blossoms it yielded was only enough for a tiny jar of vinegar. Still, three weeks later, I can assure you that the volume is sufficient and should last a while. The vinegar is the pink of a deep rosé and has a pungent, savory-sweet aroma that can really get your juices flowing, culinarily-speaking.

Chive Blossom Vinegar | Minimally Invasive

I’ll try it in a vinaigrette the next time I make a salad, but today, I used it to perfume and season a kale and spinach pesto, which I tossed with zucchini noodles for a Paleo take on pasta.

Zucchini Noodles with Kale Pesto | Minimally Invasive

There’s no recipe for this dish since my pesto changes each time I make it; I just throw things into my food processor and adjust the seasonings before tossing it with my base of choice. Today, I broke out my spiral vegetable slicer on the first zucchini of the season (thanks, Bialas Farms!), simply salting the noodles lightly and letting them drain in a colander until it was time to dress them. For the pesto, I tossed a little of this and a bit of that into my food processor: a handful of spinach and two handfuls of dinosaur kale, some chopped, toasted almonds, grated Parmesan cheese, a few chives, a hit of basil-infused olive oil (a delicious indulgence from Olive That in Montclair), extra virgin olive oil, a pinch of sugar to balance the kale’s earthiness, a pinch of salt, lemon juice and a splash of the chive blossom vinegar. It sounds like a lot of cooking when the ingredients are listed that way, but it really wasn’t. It took all of 10 minutes to throw everything together and sit down to a really satisfying lunch.

Of course, you can make this without the chive blossom vinegar this summer because it’s probably too late for you to indulge, but please give it a try next year. This vinegar is a wonderful way to enjoy those spring blossoms for an extended season.

Steak, Spinach and Another Cookbook Giveaway

Cast Iron Ribeye Steak | Amy Roth Photo

UPDATE: Congratulations to Sarah Cordes, winner of the cookbook Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan! 

To say I’ve been in a cooking rut would give the wrong impression entirely; it isn’t so much a little ennui-filled rut as it is the Grand Canyon. Gil doesn’t cook and doesn’t much care if I do, so we’ve been eating out a lot and I’ve been making little things here and there, uninspiring things that are fine (she said with a sigh), but not new and certainly not blog-worthy. Getting through the slump has taken a while, and I’m not entirely sure I’ve made it out just yet, but time will tell. I’ve had my periods of kitchen disinterest, but this was another thing entirely and I didn’t quite know how to deal with it, to be honest. So I just started reading again, reading without an agenda or in service to dinner, just for the sheer enjoyment of experiencing food on the page again. And when I happened across an article in last week’s New York Times outlining a different way of preparing a steak on the stovetop, something just clicked.

See, I’m a sucker for technique-refinement and experimentation. If there’s a new way to do something, an avenue that promises better results than the tried and true, I am there, my friend. It’s why I trust America’s Test Kitchen implicitly and why Kenji Lopez-Alt’s version of the pan-seared steak at Serious Eats became my go-to method for cooking steaks indoors during the long winter. I might’ve considered breaking out my grill for a steak now that Spring has arrived, but for the Times’ refinement of his method, which calls for salting the pan rather than the steak to form a nice crust.

Cast Iron Steak Close-Up | Amy Roth Photo

And what a crust it was! I salted my cast iron pan and put it over high heat to prepare it for the steak. And this is where my amazing American Range comes in handy. 23,000 BTUs got the pan smoking in no time at all, and it only took about six minutes of frequent flipping to reach an internal temperature of 120°F, though I should’ve pulled it off the heat just a little bit sooner because I prefer my beef somewhat bloodier than this. But that’s a minor thing and easily rectified the next time I try it. Because you know what? I like a grilled steak, but I don’t always want that smoky flavor. (I also promise to sharpen my knives this very weekend.)

Dorie Greenspan's Steamed Spinach | Amy Roth Photo

Part of my intensive reading plan involved going back through my cookbook collection to see what I could glean from the masters. I always learn something useful and eye-opening from Dorie Greenspan, so I pulled out her cookbook Around My French Table to see what she had to say on the subject of spinach — because you can’t have steak without spinach, at least not in this house. And once again, she blew my mind with a technique for STEAMED SPINACH that guarantees flavor rather than flaccid, bland leaves. I won’t give away the recipe here, but she simply turns the dish on its head and dresses the spinach BEFORE cooking it so the flavor (in this case, lemon rind) penetrates the spinach as it steams. It’s brilliant.

No, SHE’S brilliant. I’ve been a big fan for a long time and can’t gush enough about her conversational tone and spot-on recipes. I suppose what I appreciate most about the recipes is the thought she puts into each one. Just as in the steamed spinach recipe, her technique takes an ordinary dish to something extraordinary by tweaking it with just a little extra care. From whirring a pudding in your food processor to aerate and lend a silky texture to the detailed instructions for turning out the perfect chocolate chunkers, her advice always yields stellar results.

And I want you to experience it, too. I have an extra copy of Around My French Table, which I’d love to give away to one lucky reader. I can’t guarantee it’ll pull you out of a cooking funk, but I suspect it might just. At the very least, it’ll elevate your cooking by several degrees, which will benefit you greatly. To enter, fill out the form below and I’ll post the winner here next Saturday! Good luck!

Paleo Shepherd’s Pie

My love of leftovers has been well documented here — you get all of the cooking fun without a lot of drudgery because at least some of the meal is already prepped in advance. And when you’re dealing with leftovers from a holiday meal, well, that’s the best situation ever. For Easter, I prepared a semi-boneless leg of lamb for dinner with our neighbor’s family. The night before, I scored the fat and rubbed a paste of anchovies, garlic, salt, pepper and minced rosemary and thyme all over it, then set it on a rack in a large roasting pan, covered it with foil and refrigerated it overnight.

Always a mistake if you don’t like smelling garlic before your morning coffee.

But it turned out great. I roasted it at 325°F for about 20 minutes per pound until the thermometer read 130°F when inserted into the thickest part of the meat. I tented it with foil and brought it next door and it was perfectly done and ridiculously savory when we sat down to eat a few hours later. But there was also a rib roast on the menu, so we came home with quite a bit of lamb. And when I have a lot of leftover lamb, we have shepherd’s pie a few days later.

This time around, I also had about half of a medium spaghetti squash in the refrigerator, so I thought I’d give a paleo version a go. I’ve made shepherd’s pie with sweet potatoes, which are lovely, but still pretty high in carbs, so spaghetti squash didn’t seem too “out there” to consider. And it was a lovely dish. I seasoned the spaghetti squash with garlic butter and quite a bit of salt, but forgot to account for the water the spaghetti squash would give off in the oven even though it was already cooked. The dish was more soupy than stew-like, but still tasted great. Next time I’ll either add extra flour to the lamb or will toss the squash with some flour before layering it on.

Paleo Shepherd's Pie Detail | Minimally Invasive
Mmm, tasty, tasty lamb soup.

So it might have been more work than simply reheating the lamb, but now we have an entirely new dish to nibble on for a couple of meals. And it isn’t carb-heavy, so I’m not feeling the need to nap, even an hour after lunch.

Field to Feast: Spiralized Zucchini

Spiralizer with Zucchini | Minimally Invasive

Gluten-free pastas just don’t do it for me. If the taste is good, the texture is all wrong, and when the texture is passable, the flavor is blaaaaahhhhh. There are a few I’ll use in a pinch, but I usually skip them entirely in favor of spaghetti squash, which, of course, has its own problems (chief among them being its flavorlessness). So when I started seeing this spiralizer business everywhere from Bon Appétit to Fresh Tart, I placed an order within the week. I figured a bumper crop of zucchini was the perfect test for the machine and even with the shame of its single-use gadgetry hanging over my head, I’ll admit that I love it!

Zucchini Twirl | Minimally Invasive

I softened thick spirals of zucchini and summer squash with a hefty pinch of salt while I threw together a simple, punchy dressing for it, since the stuff isn’t exactly a flavor powerhouse. I fried thinly sliced garlic in olive oil until the slices were browned and crunchy, then drained the chips on some paper towels. In a small bowl, I mixed together some of the garlic oil, minced sun-dried tomatoes, fresh herbs and lemon zest, then topped the dish with wisps of Parmesan, garlic chips, Maldon sea salt and freshly grated black pepper. I was surprised to find the dish so filling but loved that it didn’t weigh me down, even with an oil-based dressing.

Zucchini Pasta Top View | Minimally Invasive

The view from above.

Zucchini Ribbons | Minimally Invasive

I knew that the angel-hair setting would render zucchini into mush, so I tried the ribbons for the next dish. The dressing was even lighter than before, using oven-roasted cherry tomatoes and garlic with fresh herbs as the base with a few dollops of Edgwick Farm chevre tossed in for contrast. Salt & pepper naturally followed and I gobbled it up. There was only one problem: many of the tomatoes were lost to quality assurance testing before the dish was assembled.

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes with Herbs | Minimally Invasive

But you really can’t blame me.

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes | Minimally Invasive

The spiral slicer is nice for anyone on the Paleo bandwagon, but if you’re just interested in reducing processed carbs, you should consider giving this a try. I love that I can rejigger a dish and make it healthier with a big serving of vegetables added to my meal. I’ll be trying it out with lots of other seasonal produce from Bialas Farms, so stay tuned.

I bought the Paderno World Cuisine spiral slicer from Amazon; it was recommended by Bon Appétit and I liked that it offered three different settings for roughly the same price as other models. Cleanup was easy and I managed not to cut myself on the blades, so I give it two (unmarred) thumbs up!

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And if you’re still awash in tomatoes, dive right in to Kasha’s Cherry Tomato and Brie Galette. It looks spectacular! The things this woman cooks on the fly just amaze me.

Field to Feast: Paleo Chocolate Zucchini Bread

Go on, treat yourself to a slice of chocolate zucchini bread with your morning coffee. I won’t tell.

As ever, the recipe from Elana’s Pantry is perfect — moist, rich and delicious. I doubled the recipe and baked it in a regular-sized loaf pan, so that’s probably why it fell in the center, but the flavor was unaffected. And for a dessert as unassuming as zucchini bread, imperfection just adds to the charm, don’t you think?

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Have you read Kasha’s great recap of our Field to Feast posts yet? No? Well, grab another slice of zucchini bread and hop on over

Field to Feast: Tomatoes

Tomatoes are here! I went a little overboard at the market as I tend to do with all produce that has such a short, shining season, but every tomato went to good use. So welcome to tomato week! I hope you enjoy.

Gluten-Free, Paleo Tomato Tart | Minimally Invasive

Starting things off, I have a hearty gluten-free/Paleo tomato conserva tart that’s bursting with fresh flavor. Because tomatoes release a lot of water as they’re cooking, I made each element of the tart separately, then assembled them at the end to avoid a big, soupy mess in the oven. The gluten-free tart shell was based on the Paleo Pie Crust at Elana’s Pantry with some Parmesan cheese and a handful of fresh herbs — basil, of course, plus rosemary, sage, thyme and chives — thrown into the food processor. The herbs turned the dough a beautiful shade of green, but if you’d rather a dough studded with herbs, just mince and stir them in by hand when you’ve finished mixing. I pressed the dough into a nine-inch tart pan, then covered the bottom with foil, weighed it down with dried beans, and blind baked it for 20 minutes at 350° F. At that point, I removed the foil (and beans) and baked it for 10 minutes longer to dry the bottom of the shell.

The middle layer, which isn’t visible here, was a blend of chèvre from Edgwick Farm, about two tablespoons of cream cheese, a hefty grating of parmesan cheese and the roasted garlic cloves and some oil from the tomato conserva, which you can find at Fine Cooking. I used a mix of tomatoes for the conserva, thinking of the end product visual, but use whatever you like. To assemble the tart, I spread the cheese mixture over the cooled shell and layered the tomatoes in a ring, overlapping, from the outside-in. I didn’t do it for the picture, but just before serving, drizzle the top with reduced balsamic vinegar and a sprinkling of fresh herbs, and maybe a little more grated Parmesan if you love it as much as I do.

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This week, Kasha posted a wonderful mid-season recap of our Field to Feast posts at The FarmGirl Cooks. If you’re a newbie to this series and want to see all of the seasonal goodies we have to offer, head over there and dive right in!

The Whitest Soup

Until I posted this picture on my Facebook page last week, I had NO idea that there are people in this world who don’t like white foods! Taste and texture issues? Sure, we all have them — I despise mint and don’t like mix-ins in my ice cream — but it never occurred to me that one color could be such a turnoff across the board. So to all of you (like my brilliant designer-friend Jenn at Seahorse Bend Press) who are white foods-phobic, I apologize in advance for today’s post.

I blame Martha Stewart for my recent obsession with cauliflower soup. Making this recipe started the ball rolling and I’ve been playing with it ever since, paring ingredients each time to get to the essence of the soup. Like potage parmentier, I suspect this is a soup that can take endless amounts of noodling around, but doesn’t need it at all.

Cauliflower Soup @ Minimally Invasive

What I did amounted to more of a technique than a recipe. I roasted cauliflower florets and trimmed, chopped stems with a drizzle of olive oil and salt & pepper till it was slightly caramelized and the flavor was concentrated. While the cauliflower was roasting, I sautéed a chopped onion and a clove of garlic in olive oil until they were soft, then tossed the roasted cauliflower into the pot (minus a few florets set aside for garnishing) and added water until the cauliflower was just peeking out from it. You could use chicken stock instead of water if you prefer, but I was going for a vegan dish. After simmering for about 20 minutes to allow the flavors to combine, I blended the soup in batches in my Vita Mix, then adjusted the salt to taste. Feel free to use an immersion blender instead of going to the trouble of blending it in batches; I was chasing creaminess this time around and so opted for the fussier method.

Cauliflower Soup @ Minimally Invasive

And if you stopped there, it’d be perfectly delicious, but I wanted a little bit of a bite, so I topped it with a few of the reserved roasted cauliflower florets and a very simple preserved lemon gremolata (for which I chopped 1/4 of a preserved lemon peel, a handful of flat-leaf parsley and a small garlic clove, then moistened it with olive oil and seasoned it with salt). I had some berbere leftover from this recipe, so I sprinkled a little over the gremolata and thought it really added a nice hit of spice to the whole thing. It’s not a necessary addition by any means, but if you have a spice blend you love, give it a try.

I’ll be back soon with more color on the plate, for everyone who hated today’s post.

A New Look + The Winter Market

It’s done! Nearly eight years after starting this blog, I gave it a major design overhaul last week! And thank goodness; I just couldn’t look at that raggedy old thing any longer. My lack of anything resembling technical knowledge kept me from tackling it for all those years, but I figured I’d give it a stab, because how hard could it be with one of WordPress‘s highly-praised themes? But still, I couldn’t do it alone, so here’s a big thank you to Gil for setting up a test site and to our friend Jason, who helped me get this behemoth up and running yesterday.

There are a few new features here that I’d like to tell you about. First of all, there’s a top nav to help you get around and a proper home page with some fun features! I’ll likely add some functionality to it in the future, but for now, you can find recent blog posts as well as projects there. Think of the Projects page as a portfolio-lite; it has a few selected images from projects I’ve worked on (mostly cookbooks) along with descriptions and external links to each. To see more of my photography, just click on the Portfolio link in the top nav.

You can sign up to receive an email when new posts are published by using the subscribe box in the blog side navigation or in the footer. Connect with me on social media via the links above the main logo or write to me (I’d love to hear from you!) from the Contact page. There’s also an honest-to-goodness About page now; I figure it’s about time you know a little more about me, and maybe see a picture, even.

Anyway, take a look around — I hope you like what you see! (And if something isn’t working, please let me know.)

Now for some food!

I’m not sure why I gave up the Farmers’ Market Feast series when our weekly market moved to a monthly one over the winter because I never miss one, even though I don’t get to load up on local vegetables at it. So this is my inaugural Winter Market post, and also the last until November because I’ll be back to a weekly schedule in May! Hooray!

Aged Goat's Milk Cheese @ Minimally Invasive

This lovely specimen of aged goat cheese comes from our friends at Edgwick Farm. There was a bit of give around the edges which promised a creamy interior; it was all I could do to hold off from cutting into it before taking this shot.

Aged Goat Cheese @ Minimally Invasive

Just look at that gooey loveliness! The slight goatiness was offset by a drizzle of local honey from Nina’s Red Barn Farm. I’ve consumed a little over half of the cheese in the past two days, which is why I don’t buy it too often; I simply can’t resist the temptation it throws my way.

Roasted Mushrooms & Egg @ Minimally Invasive

Now this little slice of heaven was my Sunday morning breakfast. In my 20s I really loved brunch or brunching; it seemed like such a civilized way to start the day and served as a good excuse to have a bloody mary at an outrageously early hour. (So naughty!) But after years of consuming lord knows how many mediocre egg dishes and entire fields of lukewarm fried potato chunks, I realized I really was in love with the idea of brunch. Now that I’m older, I find I can make a better meal than most brunchy restaurants offer, so it’s a good excuse to indulge.

Roasted Mushrooms & Egg @ Minimally Invasive

Wiltbank Farm is new to our market, selling flavorful oyster and shiitake mushrooms. I wanted to feature the oysters without much interference, so I tossed the mushrooms with some olive oil, a hefty amount of thyme and red pepper flakes, salt & pepper and threw in a few whole garlic cloves for good measure. After 15 minutes on a roasting pan in a 425 degree oven, they were deliciously schlumped and caramelized, so I smashed the garlic cloves into a paste, tossed the paste with the mushrooms and the angels sang.

This was an ideal nest for a perfectly fried duck egg from Edgwick Farm. After trying them for the first time this weekend, I feel sure they’ll be on the menu for as long as I can find them. The flavor isn’t so different from a chicken egg, but they’re much more substantial, and if you’re a yolk lover like I am, you’ll love the ridiculous size of these. I felt I ate like a queen.

And here’s a little yolk porn, just cuz. Have a great week!

Yolk Porn @ Minimally Invasive

Finally!

coconut flour, almond flour

After choking down loads of dense, eggy breads, biscuits and pancakes that felt like they were expanding in my throat, I decided coconut flour just didn’t live up to its reputation as an exciting (or even acceptable) paleo/gluten-free flour. No matter what it was blended with, the results were off just enough to remind me that I was eating a substitute for the real thing. But high praise from Jenny at MFAMB for a chocolate chip cookie made with a blend of coconut and almond flours* but no eggs led me to reconsider. The recipe at Cookie & Kate sounded deceptively simple, so I went straight to the kitchen to test the vegan version** with coconut oil. After cooling them on the pan until they were firm enough to be handled — 10-15 minutes — I bit into a delicious, standard chocolate chip cookie that was crisp at the edges and soft in the center. I defy anyone to identify them as gluten-free by taste alone.

coconut flour, almond flour

Naturally, I also baked a batch with butter instead of oil, but I made a few other big changes at the same time:

  • I browned the butter instead of just melting it, because brown butter makes everything better.
  • Taking a cue from the awesome Jacques Torres cookie recipe that swept the food world several years ago, I rested the dough in the refrigerator for three days before baking.
  • I doubled the size of the cookies from one tablespoon to two, flattened them slightly, and topped each with a sprinkle Maldon sea salt before baking for 13 minutes.

Weirdly, the butter amplified the coconut flavor more than the coconut oil did, but otherwise, I much preferred the second batch. It’s a heftier cookie that gets its only crunch from the sea salt, which accents the chocolate and just leaves you wanting more. And more. And still more.

Gluten-free bakers, this one’s a home run. Be sure to try this recipe.

* For the record, I used JK Gourmet Almond Flour rather than the more easily found Bob’s Red Mill Almond Meal/Flour, which probably had a lot to do with the smooth texture that mimics regular flour. If you use almond meal, I’m sure you’ll produce a cookie every bit as delicious as these, just a bit coarser.

** For vegan cookies, be sure to buy dairy-free chocolate chips. I know you dedicated vegans always read labels, but when you’re just starting out, it’s sometimes easy to forget.